Effect of Using Smartphones in the English Vocabulary Learning
In today’s educational environment, a smartphone has become a useful technological tool. Asian and European students have already enjoyed this technology for several years. Significantly, the English vocabulary learners amongst Bahraini EFL/ESL students also appreciate the importance of these helpful technologies. The use of smartphone in Asia has outnumbered the traditional PC Internet use. Smartphones give an easy and quick access to the Internet and different forms of communication. Bahraini EFL/ESL students who wish to improve their English vocabulary widely use the smartphones in their everyday life. Moreover, Bahraini EFL/ESL students can have an easy access to communicate with their teachers and peers. Recently, it has become a common practice to download different EFL/ESL programs and tests. This makes the learning process more effective no matter where students are located. Admittedly, students who use smartphones in learning English as a second language have demonstrated better results in their studying.
The Role of the Communication Technologies in Learning
With the increasing diversity and complexity of the English learning technologies, the use of smartphones and different digital devices has become popular all over the globe. With the growth of migration, mobility, and advances in the communication technologies, the contexts of learning and using English in the globalized world are becoming fluid, flexible, mobile, and less easily definable (Martin, Bailey, & Piziali, 2010). In relation to the communication technologies, for example, students can have an easy access to different online discussion forums in different locations, or access learning materials and resources via their smartphones. The communication technologies also mean that Bahrain students as well as other international learners, can maintain daily contact with their families, friends, and colleagues they leave behind, or can access national news and television programs from their own country.
In effect, the contexts, within which people learn and use English, are not so easily definable in geographical, physical, cultural, social, or linguistic terms. Consequently, the distinctions between learning English as a “foreign” language and learning English as a “second” language becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. Ushioda (2013) observes the globalization of the universities competing in the international academic marketplace, the spread of the English-medium academic teaching in many countries (for example, in the Middle East), and the growth of the Asian and Arab universities offering degree programs taught in English (for example, Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.). The mobile technologies provide learners with more flexibility in terms of being able to undertake learning anytime and anywhere. Mobile learning offers numerous active, collaborative, and social learning opportunities.
Why Have Smartphones Become Popular in the ESL Learning?
SMS can be used in a learning environment for giving pop quizzes and spelling tests, or for polling the students’ opinions. Bahraini EFL/ESL students can use SMS in real time to analyze and diagnose a problem. This strategy would be particularly useful for the English language learners. The bright, high-resolution screens of smartphones are appropriate for meaningful text to be displayed, with users able to adjust the display of text to their own reading speed. Entire novels written on and read on smartphones are popular among Bahraini ESL students. Now that smartphones have memories or memory card slots, educational programs may be downloaded to the phones directly. Bailey and Martin (2009) noted that this would be useful for studying for EFL/ESL exams. Many colleges use smartphones as an exciting and innovative tool that can be kept in students’ pockets and help them study English.
It is known that many school teachers in Bahrain punish students for using smartphones at the lessons because most children use them for private purposes such as listening to music, or watching movies. College and University ESL/EFL students have realized that smartphones are not only an important tool of communication with their family and friends but also an essential part of learning, particularly the English vocabulary. It is an exciting tool to practice in listening, comprehension, and reading of the English texts. Students can use smartphones in different ways. First of all, they have to learn some possible strategies to use smartphones in the English learning. For example, EFL/ESL students can get a lot of advantages in mastering the English vocabulary through downloading the required e-books, dictionaries, and software from the mobile Internet to improve their reading practice (Bachmair, Cook, & Kress, 2009). Many Bahrain English students capture class notes by means of mobile cameras. With this, they do not need to buy expensive books or visit libraries.
It is important to emphasize that smartphone abilities in studying English include:
- Developing reading and speaking skills through the recorded short stories;
- Practicing pronunciation by recording audio materials;
- Sending SMS in short and crispy sentence for grammar practice to the teachers;
- Getting feedback from the teachers via SMS;
- Delivering homework and tests;
- Doing research through the use of the text messages and Internet browser;
- Using sound effects as stimulus for writing;
- Recording students speech in cell phone voice recorder options and later use it for speaking and pronunciation tests;
- Listening to enjoyable songs for learning the key language or grammar;
- Voice threading; people can use their cell phones to call and record their voices to communicate with others;
- Using word match games as the mean of spelling practice.
Bahrain and Its Mobile Based Language Learning Abilities
Bahrain is a small country with developed economy, and that is why people have a number of opportunities to use such communication technological devices as smartphones. It has become a common practice to use learning and m-learning in Bahrain schools, colleges, and universities. In the last decade, researchers’ attention has been drawn to the language students who study English as their second or foreign language and use smartphones as the instructional tools in their English learning classrooms (Lonsdale, 2006). Some previous studies suggested that they enjoyed the feasibility and usability of the mobile SMS for learning English. The study findings suggested that the mobile technology had improved the learners’ performance.
Of particular interest is the observation that using smartphones in the English vocabulary learning amongst Bahraini EFL/ESL students has many advantages. Firstly, the mobile version could be used to reinforce and memorize what was learned before an exam. For example, the English vocabulary could be learned when a learner is in the train, or somewhere outside the classroom. Secondly, it is evident that the addition of audio to the mobile version improved a sense of immersion into the content and increased the level of involvement in comparison with the web version. Shafaei (2011) explored that ESL/EFL students can concentrate in a more effective and efficient manner. The converged functionality that is now commonplace with smartphones has led to their extensive use for learning outside the classroom. In so doing, the learners can use mobile devices in a competent way to organize their self-direction learning.
The Advantages of Mobile Learning
Many Bahraini EFL/ESL Students have shown great interest in the English vocabulary learning through SMS. Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler (2005) have explored that the use of SMS encourages classroom interactions. In their research, some students sent SMS via their personal cell phones and these SMS were screened on a laptop where a modem interfacing with customized software was used to create an SMS file in order to view the sent messages. The teacher then replied verbally and this message with teacher’s verbal reply was later posted online to promote interactivity by further comments. The teachers can use computers to send SMS to students, with particular advantage for administrative purposes (Latchem & Jung, 2009).
From the SMS-based class, it is also observed that students feel more free and easy to answer the questions via mobile devices instead of face-to-face communication. It also improves students’ engagement by offering a more relaxed and comfortable setting for learning. More specifically, the wireless mobile learning devices can offer amazing technical capabilities to develop new ways for language learning in Bahrain as it needs only skilled management with low cost (Stockwell, 2007).
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The research asserts that using the mobile technology to engage students in online learning is not just about using the devices but rather about learning across contexts anytime, and anywhere. Smartphones and mobile technologies immerse students into a constructivist environment and have the potential to improve active learning, teamwork, and critical thinking greatly (Chinnery, 2006).
Some Challenges of the Mobile Learning
Honigsfeld and Dove (2010) reported that the teacher’s role, as well as administrative aspects, contains some challenges. This way, they lack authority and communicative control when students use their personal smartphones for the English vocabulary learning. Moreover, from the teachers’ perspective, there is a perceived inability to keep up with technology. Furthermore, from the administrator’s viewpoint, there is a lack of control over the use of technology in the classroom. A number of Bahrain ESL/EFL students receive language instruction from the elementary level, but after completing their graduation, students feel difficulties in using the language for communication and real life situations.
The research asserts that some students may also misuse the cell phones or cheat during exams. Sampson, Isaias, and Ifenthaler (2012) note that some students use smartphones as a fashion tool; thus, most of them are prohibited to use them in the classroom. Mobile technologies have shown some architectural problems including the difference in platforms and the need for wireless connection. Although the affordability of smartphones in Bahrain has been steadily increasing as technology advances, the cost of these devices can limit their usage by the English language learners. Additionally, the current economic crisis in most of the higher education institutions worldwide also limits and prevents changes needed for innovation in the advent of the new technology and learners’ interest. Moreover, many ESL/EFL Bahraini learners are uneasy about engaging in innovative, technology-based endeavors for learning regardless of their personal interest.
In today’s educational environment, smartphones have become a useful technological tool for the English vocabulary learners amongst Bahraini EFL/ESL students. Smartphones give an easy and quick access to the Internet and different forms of communication. Bahraini EFL/ESL students, who wish to improve their English vocabulary, widely use smartphones in their everyday life. It has become a common practice to download different EFL/ESL programs and tests. This makes the learning process more effective no matter where students are located. The use of smartphones in the English vocabulary learning is considered to be a revolutionary invention, and many students really appreciate it (Nation, 2009). The mobile technology is growing in an exponential rate among the EFL/ESL learners in Bahrain. According to research, in a few years, the vast majority of the Internet users will be assessing it with a mobile device. Mobile technologies provide learners with more flexibility in terms of being able to undertake learning anytime and anywhere. The mobile learning offers numerous active, collaborative, and social learning opportunities (Thornton & Houser, 2005).